The below blog entry was written for us by Bob Ditter, a child, adolescent, and family therapist in Boston. Bob has been working with the Bryn Mawr staff for the past eight years. In addition to training our staff, Bob spends four days at camp during the summer “in the trenches” helping campers and staff.
As always, feel free to call or email if you have any questions or concerns!
Getting Ready for Camp
If you are the parent of a first time camper at Lake Bryn Mawr Camp and you are like most parents, you are probably both excited about the prospect of your child going off to camp and a little nervous. After all you are about to open a new chapter in your family’s story—the start of a new adventure for your daughter! Camp professionals have been helping kids become more independent for years, and Dan and Jane Kagan are among the best at helping girls find their own voice while putting families at ease with the entire process. Dan and Jane think of camp as “life experience with training wheels”—a powerful way to add to and enhance the many strengths your daughter can develop. The Kagans see this as their true business. What your daughter will talk about are all the friends she is making and all the activities she is doing, like horseback riding, gymnastics, dance, theater, swimming or arts and crafts. What seasoned camp families know, however, is that by being at camp their daughters are becoming even more self-reliant, confident and self-assured. In other words, Bryn Mawr teaches coping skills for girls while having the time of their lives!
So what can you do as a parent to get yourself and your daughter ready for this life-enhancing experience we call camp? Having been involved with camp for over thirty years I have a few ideas that I’d like to share with you.
Getting Yourself Ready
First, notice that when I posed the question about what you can do to get your daughter ready for camp I included you in the process! There are 4 pieces of advice I offer to help you as the parent get ready for camp!
- As parents you need to be absolutely clear with yourself about the reasons you signed your daughter up for camp in the first place. Whether it was to make new friends, learn new skills or learn to fend for herself in a safe and supportive environment, you need to put those reasons “front and center” in your thinking and not lose track of them when you inevitably have a sad feeling about seeing your child off on the camp bus next month! As I often tell parents, one of the best things we can do for our children is to encourage them to take on the world in a healthy and sustainable way. Camp offers the perfect opportunity for helping widen your daughter’s horizons.
- Reassure yourself as a parent that you’ve done your job. All the advice, coaching, caring and goodwill is in there. Trust the job you have done. Your daughter has it in her! You are simply letting her try out her wings even if it means she hits a bump or two along the way! There are many caring adults at camp to help her on her way!
- Have allies! Letting kids go—off to camp, off to college, off on a long trip without you—is an emotionally charged event. Let your friends, colleagues, or spouses support you emotionally as you adjust to the “child sickness” you may occasionally feel.
- Take advantage of the new freedom you will have and make some plans! One of the best things you can do to develop your child’s independence is to have a life of your own. When children see their parents thriving and enjoying their adult lives it helps them think about growing up in a much more positive light. Parents sometimes tell me they feel guilty enjoying themselves when their children are away, but this is n fact a key to healthy living.
Inoculating your child against homesickness
Many parents ask about what they can do to minimize homesickness. First, let’s remember that homesickness is a natural phenomenon most kids experience and survive! That said, here are some ideas about what you can do to help your daughter get ready for camp:
- Involve them in shopping for camp, maybe even doing some packing together.
- Pack a favorite personal item, like a T-shirt, cap, small stuffed animal.
- Have the child “practice” showering, sleeping over at friends or relatives and writing letters. (Most children today don’t write letters, so get them pre-addressed envelops and practice!)
- Talk with them about the fun things they will be doing at camp. It can even help to watch the camp DVD together as a way of generating some ideas.
- Share your own stories about your first times away from home, but keep it short and positive!
- Point out what your daughter does well and how that will be an asset to her at camp.
- Post a letter to your new camper a few days before she leaves for camp so it will be there on the first day when she arrives.
If your daughter does become homesick, tell her this is normal, that once she makes friends she will feel better and that you believe in her! Remember that children get caught up in “the moment,” and that even intense feelings eventually pass. I have seen children at camp speaking in desperate terms to their parents on the phone, only to be smiling and having fun minutes later while leaving their parents feeling devastated! Work with the well trained and experienced folks at camp and your daughter will grow from the experience!
Other conversations to have with your daughter before she comes to camp:
- Every camper is part of a group and as your parent we expect you to cooperate and help out.
- If you are having a problem, your counselor is there to help you. Don’t wait to tell us, you can tell your counselor. Be honest and ask for what you need.
- If your counselor doesn’t help or is part of what makes you uncomfortable, talk to your Division Leader, Marjori, Max or Pilar.
- Clean-up is part of camp; you do it everyday; we expect you to participate.
- There are many new things at camp and you may not like them all or be as good at some as you are at others. We expect you to try!
- Go about making a new friend or two. If you are timid about meeting someone new, ask about what they like and be a good listener. Your counselor can help you with this!
- Not everyone has to be your friend, and you don’t have to be everyone else’s friend. If you have one or two good friends at camp, that’s great!
- Have fun and tell us all about it on your first call home!